Given how often Woody Allen has made jokes about therapy in his movies, it’s no surprise that his films themselves are often the subject of psychoanalytic inquiry. So one wonders, given Allen’s own journey to millionaire and international celebrity from working-class beginnings, how film theorists with a psychiatric bent will interpret his many films about people committing murder to either rise up in social status or to remain in their existing caste.
There was wealthy doctor Martin Landau, conspiring to bump off his mouthy mistress in “Crimes and Misdemeanors” before she could tell all to his wife; tennis pro Jonathan Rhys Meyers eliminating shopgirl Scarlett Johansson in “Match Point,” lest she disturb his marriage into a wealthy and powerful family; and now Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as two brothers forced to homicidal extremes to fund their visions of a better life in “Cassandra’s Dream.” (Hugh Jackman kills people in “Scoop,” but honestly, can anyone remember why?)
McGregor’s Ian is presented as a life-long social climber, shunning his father’s restaurant business in the hopes of owning international luxury hotels. Farrell’s Terry, meanwhile, is happy working as a garage mechanic, although he entertains a vague fantasy of opening a sporting goods store. Ian often borrows the posh cars that Terry works on, and his pimped ride and smooth come-on patter make actress Angela (Hayley Atwell) melt like butter. Soon, he’s making big plans to move her to Hollywood, if he can just get together his stake for a big new L.A. hotel.
Terry, meanwhile, runs hot and cold with his gambling: On an up day, he wins enough money for the brothers to buy the sailboat that gives the film its title. When his lucky streak ends, though, he winds up in deep debt. The brothers turn to their uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) for help, only to find that their much-doted-upon relative is involved in some shady business himself. Howard offers to come through with the money they need — provided the boys kill an ex-employee who’s threatening to expose one of Howard’s crooked deals to the authorities.
While McGregor and Farrell both give terrific performances here, all of their scenes for the latter half of the movie boil down to some variant of “We have to do this” / “I don’t think I can do this” banter that quickly grows tiresome and repetitive. Wilkinson’s appearance in the film is all too brief, but the intense scene in a rainy park (wonderfully shot by Vilmos Zsigmond) in which he lays the facts for his nephews and demands their allegiance gives the film a much-needed jolt of adrenaline.
While Allen’s “Match Point” was an interesting switching of gears for a filmmaker whose recent comedies had grown misanthropic and creaky, his new mantle of Patricia Highsmith-esque crime chronicler is wearing thin as well. Here’s hoping the prolific 72-year-old has a few more interesting career moves up his sleeve.